/ Food & Drink, Shopping

Our super-complaint on dodgy supermarket pricing practices

Put an end to misleading pricing

From dodgy multi-buys to shrinking products – it’s time to shelve misleading supermarket pricing tactics for good. That’s why we’ve deployed one of our most powerful legal weapons – a super-complaint.

We’ve been alerting retailers to misleading pricing tactics for the last seven years, and yet dodgy offers still remain on supermarket shelves.

Many retailers are creating the illusion of savings that don’t exist, which in turn mislead people into buying products they may not have chosen if they knew the full facts.

Our supermarket pricing super-complaint

Enough is enough. We’re now using one of the most powerful legal weapons in our armoury – a super-complaint – to demand action from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

Which? has legal powers under the Enterprise Act 2002 to formally raise matters that may be significantly harming consumers’ interests with regulators. It’s a power we only use after a great deal of work to exhaust every other possible route to change businesses practices. The CMA now has 90 days to respond to our super-complaint (PDF 4.7Mb).

Millions lost to dodgy offers

With £115bn spent on groceries and toiletries in 2013, we could be collectively losing out to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds, even if only a very small proportion of offers are misleading. Some of the dodgy pricing practices we’ve raised with the CMA include:

  • Confusing and misleading special offers.
  • A lack of easily comparable prices because of the way unit pricing is being done.
  • Shrinking pack sizes without any corresponding price reduction.

What’s more, we’re concerned about how supermarket price matching works in the context of these dodgy pricing practices.

The cumulative impact of all these different pricing tactics means it’s virtually impossible for you to know whether you’re getting a fair deal. This is particularly true when prices vary frequently, when you’re in a rush or if you’re buying numerous items of relatively low value.

We want an end to misleading pricing tactics and for all retailers to use fair pricing that people can trust. If you agree, please sign our petition. And if you’ve spotted any pricing tactics that really wind you up, share them in the comments below.

Cymru2010 says:
1 June 2015

Another example of shrinking products spotted today.
Andrex 18 roll toilet tissue. I have previously bought 240 sheets per roll for a pack price of £7
Today I see it is now 221 sheets per roll, and priced at £6.84
This makes the pack size 8% smaller and 6% more expensive per 100 sheets.

Well, ‘wipe’ them off my shopping list then

A new four-pack of Andrex looks considerably smaller when placed alongside an older example because the sheet size has shrunk as well. Is nothing sacred?

‘Reputable companies’ that produce or sell to the general public are likely to become an endangered species soon. Maybe companies deal with other companies more fairly but that does not help the consumer.

Margaret Ross says:
28 August 2015

Underhand of Andrex. I will not buy this brand of toilet paper again. Customers have to be vigilant when buying “special offers”.

Sainsburys. Its only trivial but they keep doing it. Own brand toilet paper 9 pack offer £3 18 pack £6.50. Tnen its back to £3.50 for 9 for a while.

Sorry John but your comment doesn’t make any sense

Sue Patterson says:
9 June 2015

Lucozade orange (one litre) for £1.00 a bottle in my co op, but in the chilled fridge (people buying quick snacks, lunch sandwich meal deals etc and particularly school children at dinner time where I live; special deal label says one 500 ml bottle of lucozade for £1.25 OR 2 bottles for £2. Just do the maths!

It’s not just ripping us off on handy size bottles but also the school kids easy targets for chugging 1L of high glucose drink for a quid before going back into school for the afternoon. Does Co-op care?

Laura says:
11 June 2015

Today I bought a 500ml bottle of Dove bath creme from Tesco in Gatwick, advertised at half price for £1.64 (was £3.29), but when I checked my receipt after I had left I noticed that I had been charged £3.90 for it! Even more than the supposed original price!

It is really infuriating to be mislead by false advertising this way! (And yes, I did double check that I had picked up the correct size relating to the offer)

Deborah says:
14 July 2015

On two occasions that I can recall, I have bought something that was supposedly on offer, only to find at the self-service that I didn’t get the discount. I had previously believed this to be an error on my part, but it appears from the magnitude of complaints in this section, that this is an ongoing issue. If I buy something for a discount, then that should be reflected in my receipt. Most of the time it is, but those two occasions were irritating. It has happened to me in Primark, when I had to pay a higher price because someone had slapped a discount sticker onto a piece of clothing (or two, actually) that hadn’t been registered with their till. I then looked foolish and a little suspicious in pointing to the discount sticker. Retail stores should get themselves in order.

Lou Denney says:
14 July 2015

I will not buy multiples as the price for one has usually been raised to make it more attractive to buy two. Most of my shopping is now done in Aldi, where they have no multi-buys, pricing is simple and transparent, the goods are of far better quality than other own brands, no reward cards, more staff who are better paid – you get my drift.
The few things I have to buy at other places, I find I have to examine prices in case it’s cheaper to buy two small ones than one big one or some such other rip-off

Gerry says:
14 July 2015

Exactly – that’s why Aldi have recently overtaken the mega-expensive Waitrose.

The big supermarkets hate single people, hitting them with horrendous surcharges for single items and excluding them from ‘Save £5 when you spend £40’ or whatever.

Yo-yo pricing is also endemic – the most brazen example must be Pimms No.1. The big boys sell it at £21 at the start of the year when it’s cold and dark simply so that they can slash the price with fake special offers in the summer. The ‘real’ price is less than half of that – Morrisons have it at £10 right now.

All power to Aldi & Lidl ! Their brands may be unknown, but they’re just as good, especially their tomato soup and tomato ketchup which are every bit as good as Heinz but vastly cheaper.

Margaret Ross says:
28 August 2015

I wish that I could shop in an Aldi store. In Stonehaven we have four Co-ops, all expensive with no option to shop elsewhere.

Maureen says:
14 July 2015

I’ve notice when I read the Argosy insert in various weekend newspapers, advertising their latest goods on sale, the small print underneath the item, often has “previously sold for ….”and this is frequently cheaper than they are now advertising it, so keep a watchful eye! It may not be the bargain you expect!

Nigel Snape says:
14 July 2015

a lot of everyday foods used to be sold in prescribed quantities laid in Weights and Measures legislation, such as bread and other everyday foods. the idea was that it made comparison easy and stopped producers reducing the size of their products and charging the same. Ok weghts are given and in larger shops a unit price must be shown, but in my view this was introduced at the demand of business Nader the pretext it was what the co numerous wanted and duly supported by government, Labour!, which stated it gave better consumer choice. A load of tosh.

On my last trip to the supermarket an elderly gentleman commented to me about the price of apples. We ended up between us trying to decipher the price difference between packaged and loose ones. The packaged apples he was buying at a straight £2 per bag [7 per bag] were unit priced whereas the loose ones I was buying were only sold by the pound or kilogram. I did consider weighing both the loose and the packaged ones but as they were of a different variety and size, neither of us was able to fathom which was the better buy.

He said he was not a member of Which? and so I proceeded to ask him if he had noticed the shrinking size of various other goods on the shelves selling at the same price before they were shrunk and I’m sure he thought I was joking!

Maybe Which? gained another member as a result of our encounter, but I guess I will never know.

Emma says:
14 July 2015

At asda I put a pack of prepacked potatoes or some such veg on their scales the one where you choose your product and it prints the sticker for you to pop on your bag the prepacked ones cost more per kg than the ones you choose yourself and I’ve sometimes found them to be slightly under the weight so your paying more for less

I compared the price per kilo of pre-packed bananas and apples with loose at the big four supermarkets, and the loose ones were cheaper in every case (details in this article here: http://www.staticwhich.co.uk/documents/pdf/p16-19_packagingtricks_r3-386043.pdf). That was just a snapshot though, so I’m not sure if that’s the case every time, although it’s interesting that you found the same thing, Emma.

This is not entirely surprising because someone else will be packing pre-packed produce for you. Even on supermarket wages, their time won’t come for free and neither will any packing materials that are used.

I have just been checking Waitrose website as this was the supermarket referred to in my above post and the said gentleman was considering purchasing their new brand ‘weather-blemished’ apples of South African origin apparently to help SA farmers to clear surplus stocks. Listed on the same website is a pack of minimum 7 Waitrose Braeburn apples @ £2.00 per bag, [origin not specified] exactly the same price as the pack of minimum 7 SA ‘weather-blemished’ ones. Question is, given a choice which ones would you choose, SA weather-blemished’ to help the SA farmers or Braeburn, [one assumes unblemished] at the same price? Common sense tells me that anything “blemished” ought to be the cheaper option.

Kim Marchant says:
14 July 2015

Prices shown next to items on receipt do not show discounted value. Discounts are shown at the bottom of the receipt and this makes it difficult to tell whether a discount has been properly implemented or is consistent with what was expected. Not infrequently, I have discovered that mistakes have been made of up to £5 on a weekly shop of £130 .

It seems that Energy providers, Home insurance provides and supermarkets use the same confusion tactic to trick customers into paying more than necessary.

Having recently shopped at a Continente shop in Portugal I am even more certain that our UK supermarkets are ripping us off. A good standard red wine, for example is under £1 (1.29 euros), butter at under 60 pence a half pound and even UK manufactured and sent to Portugal are anything up to 30% cheaper. Bearing in mind transport costs to Portugal are included shows how much we are being ripped off. My main whinge is the buy 2 for whatever price when just previously 1 item was less than half that price

We will learn if the Which? super-complaint has been successful very soon.

Fingers crossed please.


just to let you know, we published the results of the CMA’s investigation into our super-complaint earlier this morning. Here’s the link.


Well done!! Hope it leads to someone resolving this matter as we all hate getting ripped off

Just visited my local branch of Tesco – I nearly bought a refill packet of Kenco millicano coffee for £3 (85gm) until I noticed it was being sold at £3 for 100gm.!

Richard F says:
10 August 2015

Shelves full of ‘Vitamin Water’ at our Local Tesco in Worksop, all on ‘2 for £2’ (instead of £1.49 each), or so I thought.

Got to the checkout ‘£2.90 please’. Hold up? eh? Went back to the shelves, out of twenty odd lines of bottles, two lines werent in the offer. All identiical brading from same manufacturer, just a different colour. The two bottles I got, were from one of the ‘offer’ rows, but looked to have been moved from a ‘none-offer’ one. Could be staff, could be customers; I know which my money is on! In any event, surely the fact that there are so many in teh discount should mean that the ones NOT on discount should be prominet;y displayed?

Just been in Tescos and they are selling Hersheys Reeses Peanut Butter Cups 4 Pack 170G for £1.99 but the website and the in store ticket state this is £0.29 per 100g. Some mistake surely.

Clive Haines says:
23 September 2015

Sainsburys Bridgemead Swindon today Sept 23 Heinz Baked Beans 415g single tins 50p with next to them 4 packs at £2.60!!!! Prices were right at floor level so very difficult to check but still managed to photograph them. Have emailed Sainsburys Head Office to enquire why such deceitful tactics were being used. Looking forward to the response.

PAPER TOWELS…used to last several days. Now a day if lucky!
weaker paper, larger card roll so less paper. Less sheets
How mean can you get. Now you want us to pay for plastic bags.
support your customers not your corporate pockets. Don’t give me that charity drivel as though you get nothing out of it yourselves.


Tilda Steamed Basmati Rice

79p each, OR, Any 2 for 2.50

And just in case anyone is interested, I ordered 1 at 75p and got charged £1.59 !!!

What really irritates me is when they tell you the price per kilo but a similar product next to it is in price per pound. So unless you have a calculator and want to start doing complicated calculations then you just roll your eyes and guess.

I have an on-going issue with my local Co-op supermarket. The staff habitually leave ‘special offer’ shelf tickets in place long after the offer has expired. There is actually an ‘expiry date’ shown on these tickets, but it’s in the smallest font possible, and even customers with 20/20 vision would struggle to read (or even notice) the date.
Hence customers are charged full price for items that they have assumed to be ‘on offer’ … and complaining about this ‘tactic’ hasn’t improved the situation at all!

When comparing prices of food by weight, often you’ll see “price per 100g” on one brand and “price per kg” on another. Ok, for me it’s an easy sum to do – but it’s not obvious to everyone. Also you see “price per unit” on others. Not always clear.

I’ve noticed that Sue. Very sneaky the way they price things sometimes by weight, sometimes by unit, to make it as confusing as possible. I take my phone calculator out…..